Health officials monitor upcoming flu season


A nurse administers a flu shot at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, Ill.,, on Oct. 12, 2017.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Friday, October 19, 2018

There are hopeful signs the current flu season won’t be as widespread or deadly as last year, said an infectious disease expert with Vidant Medical Center.

However, it doesn’t matter how contained or widespread flu outbreaks may be, the best way to combat the disease is to get a flu vaccine and practice good hygiene, said Dr. Keith Ramsey, medical director of Vidant Medical Center Infection Control.

One reason flu experts in the United States are hopeful about the current season has to do with what occurred in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, the nation that is most similar to the United States in terms of infrastructure, vaccine program and public health system, Ramsey said.

“The good news is they’ve had a mild season. Their winter is our summer and they’ve just finished their flu season and it was milder than previous years. We hope that translates to a milder season here,” he said.

Also, the World Health Organization worked with manufacturers of the flu vaccine to change one of the flu strains used to make the drug in an attempt to get a better immune response this year, Ramsey said.

Ramsey said area doctors may see a few flu cases later this month, but the season typically begin in November.

“What happens is when people go home for Thanksgiving, they fly all over the place and encounter a case of the flu then they bring it back to their home, their campus, their church or their school,” Ramsey said. “Sometimes we see a bump after Thanksgiving and if we don’t we certainly see if after New Year’s because with all the traveling going on people will bring it from their travels.”

The best way to avoid the flu isn’t to limit travel but to get the vaccine, Ramsey said.

“You can’t get it too soon. There are rumors that if you get it now it won’t be effective in March or April. That’s not true, it’s effective the entire season,” he said.

Vidant Health prepares for the flu season by offering free flu shots to all its employees, a spokesman said. There also will be community clinics in Greenville and at all of its regional hospitals.

Good hygiene practices are critical to stopping the spread of the flu, Ramsey said. People should cough into their sleeves, not their hands. Hand washing also is important, especially after shaking someone’s hands.

“If you get sick, stay home. Don’t go to work, church or school,” Ramsey said.

These are the steps he practices.

“I get my flu vaccine, wash my hands frequently, cough into my sleeve and don’t come to work sick,” he said. “I also encourage my co-workers to go home if they are having flu-like symptoms.”

While people may avoid the vaccine because of tales it makes people sick, Ramsey said typically only five out of 100 people may experience symptoms.

“For years all flu vaccine was made in eggs — it is inexpensive to do it that way, so if you are allergic to eggs you could potentially have a reaction to the egg protein,” Ramsey said. “Today, there are several vaccines that don’t contain egg protein so a person with the allergy should request one of those versions.”

Other people may feel bad because the vaccine activates the body’s production of interferon, a protein the body produces that inhibits the ability of viruses to replicate. Large amounts of interferon production can make people feel sick but it quickly fades.

Flu symptoms include a 100-degree Fahrenheit or higher fever or feeling feverish — not everyone with the flu has a fever — a cough or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches or body aches, chills, fatigue and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, which is most common in children.

“Within a couple of hours you sort of have this feeling of dread that comes over you,” Ramsey said.

A person experiencing high fevers — 103-104 degrees Fahrenheit — chills, is having trouble taking in fluids or sees streaks of blood when they cough up phlegm, Ramsey said they should visit a doctor. it’s time to visit the doctor.